Thursday October 16, 2003 04:45 PM



Our Gracious host, Honorable Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad, Chairman of the 10th. Session of the Islamic Summit Conference

Your Majesties,

Your Royal Highnesses,

Your Excellencies,

Brothers and sisters,

Assalam o Alaikum!

By way of beginning my address to this distinguished assembly, I would like to thank the Honorable Mahathir Mohammad for his initiative and leadership in convening this summit in the beautiful city of Putrajaya. My brother Mahathir, I also want to express my personal best wishes, and those of the Muslim people of Afghanistan, to you as you bring to a close your honourable career as the Prime Minister of Malaysia. During your two decades in office, you have led the transformation of your country to what can rightly be considered a worthy role-model for many Muslim countries, including my own.

Allow me also to congratulate the State and leadership of Qatar for their excellent work in steering the Organisation of Islamic Conference since its last session. At the meeting of the OIC in Doha last year, a fund for assistance to the Afghan people was established. The OIC has also opened an office in Kabul now. For all these efforts, we are grateful to the OIC and to our fellow Muslim countries.

Afghanistan's presence among you today, after years of absence is testimony to important changes and developments that the world has undergone over the past few years. World events have placed Afghanistan at the forefront of dialogues between civilizations in the past two decades. Unfortunately, Afghanistan's OIC membership was suspended at a critical time for our people under the Taliban rule, and the reinstatement of our membership marks the return of the Afghan nation to the fold of the Ummah.

Among the numerous grievances of the Afghan people is the grievance that I am bringing to the door of the Islamic Ummah today. The last twenty five years have been a dark period in Afghanistan's history. For well over a decade in the 1980s, Afghanistan was invaded in order to impose an alien ideology on our deeply believing Muslim society. The Afghan people put up a stiff resistance. We fought not only in the name of Afghanistan, but of Islam too. And in the struggle, we sacrificed more than a million lives, suffered tremendous hardships, and were left with a country reduced to rubble.

Be it for the sake of solidarity and common heritage, or a reward for our struggle in the name of Islam, the people of Afghanistan deserved a helping hand from the Ummah, While most of our fellow Muslim nations stood by us, along with the rest of the free world, some with material help, some with moral support, others with prayers, certain elements, in pursuit of their narrow self interest, resorted to promoting extremism. Abetted by some and neglected by others, the threat of extremism that germinated in the region, culminated in the in the phenomenon of global terrorism. Afghanistan, with a crippled state and a war-stricken society, was used as a playing field. The emergence of the Taliban regime and the planting of the Al Qaida network in our country were visible manifestation of the phenomenon.

The phenomenon of extremism represents a much wider challenge. Tragically enough, in the mind of the common man in the outside world, extremism and terrorism are now associated with our sacred religion of Islam - a religion that elevated humanity, for the first time, into Ashraful Makhlooqat, a religion that teaches peace, tolerance and justice.

Today I speak to you frankly. I believe, as leaders of the Islamic world at a very critical period in time, we ought to come out of the confinement of rhetoric and formalities. It is time we spoke from the heart. It is time we admitted that some of today's ills can be a consequence of our past mistakes. It is time that we did some soul-searching to see whether we are contributing to a solution, or are indeed part of the problem. Today, the world of Islam is strewn with conflict and tensions. Today, the name of Islam is being abused to justify murder, the burning of schools and the terrorising of innocent populations. Some of our ills may be beyond our reach to cure, but most are curable. We ought to find remedies for the problems that plague us either individually or collectively as the Ummah. We must learn our lessons.

We are thankful to the grace of Allah the Almighty that having left behind many painful years of conflict and suffering, Afghanistan is starting to tip-toe its way on the path of stability and recovery.

As we speak, peace and reconstruction are replacing war and destruction as the prevailing reality. A nationwide process is underway in Afghanistan which is aimed at bringing about good governance, institutions and the rebuilding of infrastructure. Our sub-zero economy saw a 30 percent growth last year. Almost 2.5 million refugees have now returned to their homes. 4.2 million children, about 40 percent of whom are girls, are going to school, even though terrorists still try to intimidate our children by torching their makeshift schools and threatening their teachers. Physical infrastructure, such as highways, are being reconstructed thanks to funding from many nations, including our Muslim friends in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. A new constitution is currently being drawn up, which will provide for the establishment of a wholly representative and functional state.

The Afghan people are grateful to the help that we are receiving from the international community towards rebuilding our country. Our vision is to transform Afghanistan into a centre for economic opportunity in the region and beyond. And we believe this vision is possible to achieve.

Geographically, Afghanistan lies at the heart of the Ummah and connects together three significant territorial entities in the Islamic world, namely the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. We hope that you will consider Afghanistan's opportunity as your own.

Today, conflict and tensions abound, and the summit is justified to be concerned about the general state of affairs in the Muslim world. As far as the people of Afghanistan are concerned, we realise that our calling at this critical time is to take an effective stand. We are, therefore, determined to build friendly, civil and constructive relationships with our brotherly Muslim nations. We cannot allow a sense of insecurity created by remnants of terrorism in our region to fester. We are engaged with our international partners and our neighbour Pakistan in trying to find effective means of addressing this problem. The Kabul Declaration on Good Neighborliness signed last December by all our neighbors constitutes the framework within which we can improve regional conditions and enhance cooperation in all spheres.

Afghanistan is in favour of international stabilization efforts in Iraq, with UN participation. A democratic, sovereign and prosperous Iraq is in the interest of world peace. Our views on the bleeding wounds of the Middle East are known. Continued bloodshed is not the answer to a lasting peace between our Palestinian brethren and the Israelis. The establishment of a Palestinian State is an essential element in any just peace process.

While challenges remain, I would like to think that the opportunity is there for us all to reverse negative trends by taking positive steps. Let's work together to project to the world the true face of Islam. Narrow self-interests, pursued by wrong methods, must not pervade our collective responsibility to the Ummah. We must also realise that our collective well-being as the Ummah depends on our capacity to engage constructively with the outside world. Our relationship with the West must not be needlessly defined in the framework of a clash of civilisations. Let us advocate for a dialogue and cooperation among civilisations.